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libertarianism and the rod of power

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Jun. 10th, 2005 | 08:48 pm

My roommate's boyfriend is a hardcore libertarian (lets call him Adam for the moment) and so I've periodically gotten into arguments with him about "modern liberalism" versus "economic neo-liberalism".

First off lets be clear about something, the real issue I have with libertarianism isn't that of money or the allocation of resources, it's power.

Adam liked to complain about how he disliked government because of its abuses of power.

Something just connected in my mind today, one of the things I've noticed about all the various pro-libertarian people I've met, they're all educated, white, and usually male. Of course they're whining about the government having too much power, the last 100 years has been about everyone else taking power from the whitey and redistributing this power, and this redistribution has happened through the government, so of course
the white man is unhappy with those pesky liberals interfering with his privileged life through the government.

Let me inform all of those educated white men out there. You are what the feminists refer to as "privileged" you have access to resources in ways that those who are less privileged will never have.



For instance, compare your life with that of say, one of that of latinia transgendered woman. Because they are obviously different their ability to do something as simple as graduate from high school is limited by the likelihood of being killed. Not unsurprisingly there's a fair number of them who end up as prostitutes for men with a certain amount of kink to their sexuality. The privileged white boy will have attended better schools, have more powerful friends who help them find better jobs, they will be treated better by the police and government, they will even just do better because they expect that the world owes them a better life.

Let me pop your bubble Mr. White Boy, you do not deserve your privilege, the effort you may or may not have personally invested in your status is a tiny fraction of what was needed to give you what you have. Think of the various natives who were slaughtered by your (ok our) ancestors though the tactical use of things like smallpox infected blankets.

Or what about since most professions were male dominated, its been very difficult for women to achieve parity because the men who were already in power helped mentor those more like themselves.

As for the argument that a corporation doesn't have the same power as a government because it doesn't have the coercive power of the soldier, you obviously haven't heard of Coke's likely involvement in murdering union organizers in columbia or perhaps the link between cheveron and the nigerian government in killing several protesters

Fundamentally the flaw in Libertarianism is its lack of protection for the weak.

(And to be fair, I harassed a group of american communists about how they'd prevent the abuses of power seen in the soviet union).

I personally think that a complex creaky system where governments, churches, and businesses are all struggling to limit each others power provides a far better system for protecting the weak than any ideologically pure system.

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Comments {9}

(no subject)

from: clynne
date: Jun. 11th, 2005 07:08 am (UTC)
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That's always been my problem with Libertarians -- they come from a position of privilege and they're not good at seeing anything but the privileged perspective. Well, that, and that I know only *one* Libertarian who's not a total asshole. Maybe one-and-a-half. They tend to have blinders on where they see the world as they want it to be, not as it is.

My favorite illustration is the Libertarian idea that workers can't be exploited -- because they can always find OTHER jobs where they won't be exploited, and if workers don't like the treatment they're getting at their jobs, clearly they would quit and find new ones. Riiight. Because finding a new job is always so easy.

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Josh

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from: irilyth
date: Jun. 14th, 2005 05:20 am (UTC)
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Are you counting me? (Did I just out myself? :^)

A typical libertarian argument about worker exploitation is that it's easier for workers to quit and find new jobs in a libertarian system, and that finding a new job is often hard because of too much government intervention, not because of too much freedom. Ask economists (even non-libertarian ones) about minimum wage laws, and what effect they have on employment.

There are exceptions -- it's easy to make up an example that doesn't fit the pattern; but it's easy to make up an example that doesn't fit for any pattern of complex social human behavior.

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(no subject)

from: clynne
date: Jun. 14th, 2005 09:27 am (UTC)
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I see what you've written, and there are three reasons I'm not going to address most of it:

A. I can see at least three base assumptions you're making in your post that appear to be at odds with my personal experience as well as my knowledge of history. So we don't even really have a common ground to start discussing things from.

B. I don't think it's polite to argue politics in someone else's LJ. I don't know how D. feels about it but I'd rather err on the side of politeness. That doesn't really matter because...

C. Arguing politics on the internet is so totally useless. If it needs to be resolved by lengthy screeds, it needs to be discussed in person. SO SAYETH MY WRISTS.

Here's the part, other than my point A, that I'm going to discuss:
D. I didn't know you were a Libertarian.
E. I don't think you're an asshole! The number goes up to 2. You share a distinction with Anton Sherwood and half of Andi Payn. Only half 'cause he doesn't know any more if he's a Libertarian.

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Lauren

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from: hardrockgrrl
date: Jun. 11th, 2005 07:58 am (UTC)
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Amen. Libertarians -- thanks for the social liberties, but you can have your free-market-deregulated-social-darwinist-BS back. How can anyone still believe the myth of America as meritocracy?

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Robin

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from: solri
date: Jun. 11th, 2005 07:08 pm (UTC)
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Once upon a time, the word "libertarian" meant something. To be precise, it meant "anarchist". See my rant, Libertarianism and Semantics.

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Diane Trout

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from: alienghic
date: Jun. 14th, 2005 08:11 am (UTC)
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Interesting... so they're actually anarcho-captialists. I had no idea that once upon a time there were socialist libertarians.

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Robin

(no subject)

from: solri
date: Jun. 14th, 2005 09:01 am (UTC)
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Check out the Sydney Libertarians.

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Josh

(no subject)

from: irilyth
date: Jun. 14th, 2005 05:16 am (UTC)
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You're wrong about the stereotype, and criticizing a philosophy by making fun of its supporters is cheap and lame.

If the worst thing you can say about libertarianism is that its supporters aren't racially diverse, your side isn't doing well.

Your other examples are mostly things that libertarians would agree with. Professions didn't become male-dominated because the government was too libertarian, but rather because the government was too authoritarian. If companies are murdering people, those responsible should be in jail; murder is illegal no matter who does it. No libertarian is going to argue that Coke and Chevron should be allowed to fund death squads because Coke and Chevron aren't governments.

Libertarianism as a system does not in fact protect the weak. There are two schools of thought on why this is ok: (a) Allowing the weak to fail makes society as a whole stronger (popular among economists, especially when applied to e.g. businesses going bankrupt rather than individual humans dying of horrible diseases); (b) A libertarian system allows you to be as free to protect the weak as you want to be, rather than making the protection of the weak something everyone gets to vote on, and if you get outvoted, tough luck.

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Diane Trout

(no subject)

from: alienghic
date: Jun. 14th, 2005 08:58 am (UTC)
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As far as I have been able to tell, any time that we've run the experiment of sliding toward an unregulated capitalist system which I assume is asymptotically approaches the the libertarian ideal, it seems like abuses by the rich toward everyone else seems to increase.

In the US in late 1800s in the robber baron/captan of industry period, social inequality increased, and it wasn't until the trust busters showed up that social started becoming more equal. It took socialists to agitate for things like the FDA so meat stopped including the random immigrant laborer (Upton Sinclair, The Jungle)

To the best of my knowledge all of the countries that have been forced to follow the IMF/neo-liberal privatization of government resources have become much worse places to live. The economies tend to shrink, the number of people living in poverty increase, the ability to educate the populace decreases, access to clean water decreases, (See the part discussing Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Here in the US the rightward push of the 90s and early 2000 has been matched by stagnant wages, rapidly increasing debt, decreased job security, and decaying infrastructure.

To me if you allow unregulated corporate activity it seems like there's nothing to stop Exxon/ConAgra/TimeWarner from merging, and the resulting organization would basically be able to dominate every aspect of your life, they would be able to charge monopoly prices for food, energy, and media. With a weakend state, they would be able to a variety of tools to destroy any attempt to create competition, ranging from simple dumping, to deadly force.
I've never heard a description from a anarcho-capitalist how the the libertarian mini-state might have any ability to prevent this atrocity.

To me though all concentrations of power are suspect, experience has show that democratic governments tend to be more transparent and accountable than most corporations.

A corporation has to publish its financial statements but it is frequently difficult to obtain access to inner corporate memos to determine what the organizations motives are. However the current crop of democratic governments are supposed to provide access to this information (and if its secret there are checks which can force them to reveal it).

Admittedly one must be vigilant because power-mongers would be more than happy to install an authoritarian state in amongst the trappings of a democratic state, but a democracy has the advantage that the system is accountable to the people it affects.

A corporation is accountable to the shareholders, which can be completely disjoint from the people the corporation affects. (For instance the Chevron shareholders have no reason to be concerned with Chevron's use of force in Nigera, in fact, if this improves profits it can be in their best interest to ignore any rumors of atrocities in some far off land.

Additionally it seems like pure capitalism without \income redistribution seems to rapidly skew toward extreams of wealth--and pure capitalism has no ability to correct for this concentration. Once all the money and resources are concentrated, the wealthy can't even spend there money fast enough to keep the economy functioning, and it seems like you'd rapidly decline back to something that looked feudal--some chunk of population owns most everything and and everyone is stuck sucking up to them trying to survive.

My earlier ranting stems from my frustration that it seems like anyone whose actually had any experience with poverty can see how once you're stuck in poverty, you're not getting out in a pure capitalist system. It seems like the only those who as whole haven't been touched by the brutality of the modern corporation are able to be libertarian.

It seems to me that the libertarians are as optimistic as the socialists in that both groups like to ignore how their favored system would break when those in power deliberately start distorting the rules into their favor.

(Sorry about the ranting...)

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